When Youth Ministry Stopped Innovating

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Youth -011615Youth ministry has been known to pioneer new and
effective forms of ministry that also influence the rest of the
church. But that trend, in some churches, has largely reversed.

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Some youth ministries (and children’s ministries) try to mimic
the form, methodologies and styles found in adult church, aka “Big
Church.”

That’s a switch from youth ministry’s earlier years, upon which
I also reported in Group magazine beginning in the ’70s. During
that era, youth workers (predominantly volunteers) frequently
experimented with approaches to ministry in order to effectively
reach kids. And some of those things, because they were effective
and successful, were observed and admired by the larger church, and
eventually adopted. For example, the use of guitars, drums and
contemporary music in general began in youth ministry and then were
adopted in adult church.

But now we see youth ministry weekly gatherings attempt to
imitate what goes on at 11 a.m. on Sunday in adult church. It’s the
familiar formula of half sing-along and half lecture. The youth
pastor delivers a prepared monolog and the kids are expected to sit
still and listen. Even though they’re not wired to learn or retain
much from this approach.

In children’s ministry, some churches model “children’s church”
after Big Church. Line up the spectators in neat rows, and put on a
stage presentation. Even though they’d gain much more from being
fully involved in active participation.

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It’s a worrisome trend, especially because many of the
methodologies employed in adult church are producing lackluster
spiritual results.

What’s the
goal?

It’s time for youth ministry and children’s ministry to step
back and re-examine their purpose, mission and focus. Some
suggestions:

  1. Know your audience. Start with their
    characteristics in mind.
  2. Honestly ask what really works to influence
    them.
  3. Know your ultimate goal. If that goal is
    something like helping kids grow in a relationship with Jesus, then
    measure everything you do against that goal.
  4. Do what produces actual spiritual results that
    are linked to your goal.
  5. Innovate. Try some new things. Just because
    you haven’t seen it done in Big Church . . . well, that’s probably
    a good thing.
  6. Lead the way. There’s good precedence for
    looking for inspiration from ministries with the young:
      ”He called a little child to him, and placed the
    child among them. And he said: ’Truly I tell you, unless
    you change and become like little children, you will never
    enter the kingdom of heaven. 

      Therefore, whoever takes the
    lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
    heaven.’” (Matthew 18:2-4)

Youth and children’s ministries can–and should–be a refreshing
gift to the entire church.

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About Author

Thom Schultz

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

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